ROCKLAND, Maine — The Rockland City Council will reconsider at a special meeting Friday morning whether to grant a nonbinding option to a Boston company that wants to build a $200 million natural gas plant on property now occupied by City Hall and public services.
The decision to hold another meeting was made Thursday morning, hours after the council failed to grant the option to Rockland Energy Center, which is part of Energy Management Inc. of Boston. Councilors voted 2-1 in favor of the option on Wednesday night, but three affirmative votes were needed for approval.
Two councilors — Larry Pritchett and Louise MacLellan-Ruf — were absent from Wednesday’s meeting. Voting for the option were Mayor Frank Isganitis and Councilor Valli Geiger. Councilor William Clayton voted against it, although he said he was troubled by having to make that vote and did so in recognition of all the opposition at the meeting.
MacLellan-Ruf is back in town and expected to be at Friday’s meeting, which is set for 9 a.m. at City Hall.
“A 2-1 vote with two absent councilors and the one dissenting vote claiming support is not definitive,” City Manager James Chaousis said Thursday. “The city is left without guidance on an issue that needs tremendous knowledge and development. Creating development and growth in the city tax base takes time and patience.”
Representatives of the company are expected to be in attendance, Chaousis said. No company officials were at Wednesday night’s meeting.
The city manager said anyone who wants to comment on the matter but will be unable to attend Friday’s meeting can email remarks or observations to him at email@example.com
City Clerk Stuart Sylvester said 12 hours’ notice is all that is required under city ordinance to call a meeting. The media has been contacted, he said Thursday morning, and a notice posted at City Hall.
About 40 people attended the Wednesday night meeting, with more than a dozen of them urging the councilors not to grant the option. Only one resident spoke out in favor. Opponents said the matter was being rushed and expressed concerns for the environment with a natural gas plant in the community.
In an effort to allay the public’s concerns, Councilor Geiger had stipulated that any final decision on the sale of the property would be left to the residents through a referendum. The agenda item to be voted on Friday also will require a citizen referendum for the land to be sold.
Chaousis is recommending the council approve the option, stressing that it only would allow the city to negotiate with Rockland Energy Center. During the negotiation period, the city could gather more information on impacts of the project.
City officials have not given any serious consideration yet to where municipal offices would relocate but Chaousis said that would be studied during the negotiation period with the energy firm.
Rockland Energy is planning to submit a bid to the Public Utilities Commission on Friday for providing electricity on a long-term basis. The PUC’s deadline for long-term contract proposals from new energy generators is listed on its website as on or before May 1. The city manager said Wednesday night that Rockland Energy needs at least an option on a parcel in order to have standing to submit a bid.
The company pointed out in its bid for the Rockland properties that the project would have the benefit of creating more than 100 jobs for two years during construction and 12 to 15 permanent jobs at the plant. The project also would result in the extension of a natural gas line to the Rockland area that it states would benefit other businesses.
FMC Corp., which is Rockland’s largest property taxpayer and one of its largest employers, had representatives at Wednesday night’s meeting. Site manager Joseph Hamlin said Thursday that he was at the meeting to become better informed. He said there have been some initial conversations with the energy company about what benefits FMC could see from the natural gas plant, such as steam for heating the plant and possibly natural gas to fuel the FMC facility. Hamlin said FMC has not taken a position on the natural gas plant proposal.
The energy company contacted the city initially on April 3, according to a review of city emails. The company considered several sites including in the Rockland Industrial Park, city land next to the landfill, and then the City Hall and public services properties. The council discussed the potential sale in a closed-door meeting on April 13 and then on April 15 voted to solicit bids. Real estate agents were contacted and a public notice was published in the BDN.
The bids were open April 27. Chaousis said that the amount of time it took and the type of notice given were consistent with city practices.
An executive summary provided by the company maintains that the natural gas plant would have 20 percent less emissions than the average gas-fired plant in Maine. Patrick Woodcock, director of the governor’s energy office, said Thursday that having more demand for natural gas would make the extension of a natural gas line to the area more feasible. He said Monday that an extension of the natural gas line to the Rockland area was a top priority of the LePage administration.
Energy Management has built similar power plants in Rumford; Tiverton, Rhode Island; Dighton, Massachusetts; and Dartmouth, Massachusetts.
While more than a dozen speakers argued against the option Wednesday night, one resident, James York, urged the council to consider the proposal. He pointed out that Rockland’s property taxes have consistently been increasing and were projected to jump more this year. Geiger made that point as well, saying the city needed to continue the conversation with the energy company in an effort to help pay for needed repairs to its infrastructure.
Resident Amy Files, who voiced opposition to the project on Wednesday night, sent out an email Thursday urging people to attend the Friday morning meeting.
“Unfortunately Council has decided not to listen to residents and instead try to push this through in a very undemocratic way,” Files said in her email.